GREEN BAY — Bundled in a winter jacket and knit cap, sitting in his wheelchair near the Bishop Wycislo Center entrance, James Randall bellowed out the words to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Some guests entering the Bishop Wycislo Center for the Nov. 18 Jubilee Mass for the Homeless, held in the adjacent St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, paused briefly to listen or share a smile. One passerby, however, stopped and joined Randall in singing the chorus.
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” Bishop David Ricken and Randall crooned in harmony.
After a few more Hallelujahs, Bishop Ricken traced the sign of the cross on Randall’s head and proceeded to the cathedral entrance for the opening procession of the afternoon Mass.
The unrehearsed duet was a fitting moment, as the celebration inside the cathedral was meant to honor and pray for the homeless community and those who minister to them. It was the 11th of 12 celebrations held at the cathedral in 2018 to mark the Diocese of Green Bay’s 150th anniversary. The Mass was followed by a special reception and dinner for guests. It included roasted chicken and was served by volunteers from the diocese’s young adult ministry.
The Jubilee Mass and dinner coincided with World Day for the Poor, an observance begun last year by Pope Francis. The pope spent part of the same day at the Vatican sharing a meal with some 1,500 people living in poverty.
Randall, 50, who attended the Mass and reception, said the Bishop Wycislo Center’s entrance “is kind of like my home away from home.”
“This is where I sleep, right here,” he told The Compass. “I plug in my wheelchair there, and my thermal blanket,” he said, pointing to an electrical outlet near the door. “I’ve been doing this a couple of weeks now, trying to find a place, but it’s difficult.”
Randall said he receives “a lot of help and support” from the Cathedral staff. “In fact, it’s the main reason why I haven’t gone off of the deep end,” he added. “People here are warm and welcoming. They are always quick to offer prayer and guidance and assistance, if they can.”
According to Randall, he moved to Green Bay from Tennessee three years ago. “I was living in my van until it got hit by a train,” he said. “Then I was living in an apartment that got sold. So now I’m on the streets. I’m hoping that I can find some way to either get an apartment or someone to help me get a van.”
He said he is unable to stay at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, operated by the diocese, due to a criminal record. “It ain’t the best of situations, but it’s by far not the worst,” he said. “I am Catholic, but I really wasn’t practicing. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been wanting to get more and more into it.”
The Jubilee Mass was one of those opportunities for Randall to get back to church.
About 30 representatives from St. John’s Homeless Shelter, including volunteers and guests, also attended the Mass and reception. Fr. John Girotti, vicar for canonical services, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Ricken. They were joined at the altar by Deacons Conrad Kieltyka and Tom Mahoney.
In his homily, Bishop Ricken welcomed guests to the mother church of the diocese.
“I want to thank all of you who are here, especially those who may not have a permanent shelter on these days,” he said. “I hope that you have found hospitality through the church and through other people who are reaching out to you. I want you to know that we care for you and are so glad you are here this evening.”
Bishop Ricken also offered special thanks and greetings to shelter volunteers “who provide care for those who are homeless and are struggling.”
“During this Mass, we thank God especially for people like you, who have reached out to be the hands and the feet and the hearts and the eyes and the mouth of Jesus Christ, especially to those who are having struggles,” he said.
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading from Mark — in which Jesus tells his disciples that “no one knows … but only the Father” when the Son of Man returns — Bishop Ricken posed the question: “So what kind of a position are we to take about that?”
“The position we are to take is the one that (Jesus) gave us, especially in Matthew, Chapter 25,” he said, which is to shelter the homeless, give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.
These corporal works of mercy demonstrate the “living care of Christ for every human being,” said Bishop Ricken. “Every person who has ever been created and will be created is made in the image and likeness of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
This is why the church cares for the homeless, added Bishop Ricken.
“We are doing so, first of all, because Jesus gave that as a very serious commandment. But even more than that, he said, “we reach out to people who are hurting, and struggling so that they (will) truly find the presence of Christ.”
Even though people may imagine “God up in the heavens or in a far, distant place,” Bishop Ricken told the assembly, “God is near. … God is here with us. … God wants us to see his presence all around.”
People who care for and minister to the poor understand this, said Bishop Ricken. “They recognize Christ the most in those who are poor, forgotten, those who are outcasts, those who have no one to care for them,” he said. “That’s where we find Jesus the most.”
Bishop Ricken concluded his homily by sharing with the homeless a message from St. Teresa of Calcutta: “Jesus loves you tenderly. You are precious to him. Turn to Jesus with trust and allow yourself to be loved by him,” he said.
To St. John’s shelter staff members and volunteers, Bishop Ricken said that they serve not just to offer a handout, “but to give a hand up.”
“In St. John’s and all of the wonderful ministries that happen in the 16 counties of northeast Wisconsin, we see very humbly, very quietly, the church of Christ, Jesus, reaching out to his people, to let others know that he loves them,” he said. “You do that, and the church is very grateful.”
At the conclusion of Mass, ushers handed out commemorative jubilee rosaries to guests as they made their way into the Bishop Wycislo Center for a dinner and reception.